Time for optimism; a better year lies ahead

Fifty years ago, as the environmental movement was growing, a popular mantra was “think globally, act locally.” Global warming wasn’t on the radar, but water conservation was. At a meeting of environmentalists that I attended back then, one participant told the following story about his mother, who was probably well past 50.

Whenever she went out, this woman carried an innocent-looking shopping tote containing a brick. When she visited a restaurant, shop, or even a friend’s home, she asked to use the restroom and took the tote with her. There she carefully placed her brick in the toilet tank to conserve water during the flush. She left without the brick.

Perhaps in 2021 we can act locally, carrying our own metaphorical “bricks” to leave with others, Rather than an olive branch, we can share our brick of hope. We can reach out, bring us together as a community, a nation, a world. And we must do it selflessly, without expectations.

Expectations can be a trap. They imply that someone else will respond in a certain way, a response beyond our control. Instead of expectations for 2021, I suggest we harbor and share hope. You know — that stuff that springs eternal.

For example, when my children were growing up, I told them there was no better time to be alive than that particular day, and the day following, and so on for every future day. That’s hope. Individual days bring personal ups and downs, but in the grand scheme, my statement holds. The world is getting better day by day.

Once I would have challenged that observation. As a cynical agnostic for 12 years, I focused on everything wrong with society. Since then, I’ve come to believe that a cynic is a closet idealist. She or he hopes for a better world, but doesn’t dare expect it.

Things really are getting better. Global statistics cited by Hans Rosling, Steven Pinker and many others corroborate this. As someone born during the Great Depression, whose childhood included World War II, I’ve witnessed and experienced an advancing society.

Many advancements are due to the United Nations, formed in 1945 during the war. This year marked its 75th anniversary. The UN isn’t perfect, yet most of the positive global statistics mentioned by Rosling and Pinker derive directly from institutions associated with the UN.

My experience as a Baha’i reinforces that positive outlook. Baha’is work with the UN in a nongovernmental capacity. The Baha’i writings contain practical ideals for bringing about unity on a global scale, yet they are useful at any societal level: family, community, nation or world.

I’ve seen these ideals unify people of diverse racial and cultural ethnicities, encouraging them to live, work, laugh, and love in harmony with each other. I’ve seen adults of all ages, including little old ladies in tennies loving youth and children in a community. That’s not unusual. What is unusual, and more important, is that those same youth and children joyfully reciprocate that affection. Such intergenerational harmony is essential for nurturing upcoming generations, and it’s happening in Baha’i communities around the globe.

As we open the third decade of this century, we can leave our bricks of love with others. We can recognize the humanity of those we come in contact with, even as we socially distance. In the workplace, the grocery store, even with passersby, we can make eye contact from behind our masks. We can nod and smile.

We can use this holiday season, observed predominantly by Christians but also by other faiths, to pray that the spirit of the season descends upon each of us, drawing us closer, lightening our burdens.

As we interact, we can hope others understand our small gestures of outreach. We can hope others accept that brick in the spirit in which it’s offered. We can hope sharing our bricks of love will inspire others to offer their own bricks of love to family, friends, even total strangers, in a flush of New Year’s optimism to strengthen and unify our community here on the Palouse.

A most happy, healthy, and prosperous 2021 to you all as we use those bricks of love to remove, rather than build, walls that separate us.

Pete Haug and his live-in editor and wife, Jolie, share ideas like these over dinner. Contact him at petes.pen9@gmail.com